NEWS

Tobunken-Seminar :: “A call centre is like a free language course” – an analysis of language learning in a European and Asian call centre

Date and Time: April 27, 2015 17:30-19:00

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Venue: Seminar Room 1 (3F) Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia The University of Tokyo

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Speaker:
Dr. Johanna Woydack, Assistant Professor, Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business)

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Title:
“A call centre is like a free language course” – an analysis of language learning in a European and Asian call centre

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Abstract:
With a few exceptions, little research has been conducted on language learning in the workplace. Usually it is assumed that they do not provide much affordance for this. This is especially the case for low-skilled jobs, which frequently function as entry jobs for immigrants. In this paper, the case of call centres is explored which have been described as deskilling because of the lack of opportunity for learning. Calling scripts are usually blamed for this since they minimise learning and remove agent’s agency. The methods used in this study include long-term participant observation, sixty interviews with agents, and recording of telephone conversations. The research draws on data collected in two locations. The first is a multilingual London call centre that calls on behalf of external clients in any language desired. The context described shows a shortage of certain language speakers meaning that agents are asked to call in languages they are not fluent in. The paper explores how agents, often newly arrived immigrants, use scripts to improve their knowledge of other languages. Agents describe the call centre cold-calling context as the best opportunity for a foreign language drill. Once they feel more confident in the target language, they often successfully apply for new more prestigious jobs and are considered legitimate speakers. Call centre agents in the Philippines make similar claims about scripts and language learning. The study argues for a re-evaluation of scripts for language learning as well as the notion of call centres as deskilling.

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Contact: Katsuo Nawa

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*The lecture is open to public; no registration is required.

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